Odd way to save species


A shift in U.S. policy on endangered species may evoke for many that infamous quote from the Vietnam War about the need to destroy the village in order to save it.

In this case, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing changes that would allow trophy hunters, for example, to kill animals on the verge of extinction in other countries as a way of raising money to save animals on the verge of extinction.

If that sounds counterintuitive and illogical, that’s because it is. It’s also bad public policy.

Proponents of the change point out that poor countries have little money to protect endangered species within their borders, and they’re right about that.

But proponents then go on to argue _ presumably with a straight face _ that the way for those countries to raise money for conservation programs is to have hunters, circuses and pet companies pay a fee to kill, capture and export endangered species.

In other words, federal officials are saying that the best way to save a species is to sanction the killing or capture of individual animals, thus ensuring that numbers would keep dwindling.

They would keep dwindling because U.S. officials have no way of guaranteeing that the money raised would go to conservation programs.

Reopening the African ivory trade, for example, could bring in a hefty chunk of change that a country’s leaders might decide would be better spent on AIDS prevention programs, improved housing, better weapons for its military or a Swiss bank account than on saving other elephants. And while the money is spent on other worthy or unworthy programs, elephants would keep dying.

In Vietnam, destroying the village did not save it.

It just destroyed the village.

In the same way, killing some endangered animals won’t save the rest. It will just ensure that the species becomes even more endangered.

If the administration wants to help protect endangered animals in poor countries, it should help those countries _ through grants or other aid _ to make sure that no one, legally or illegally, kills animals on the verge of extinction.

Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.